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More Higgins eye reintroductions into the Chippewa River!
Midwest Region, August 27, 2018
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Higgins eye mussel reintroduction crew (clockwise from bottom left: Tam Smith (USFWS), Jake Winkler (WIDNR), Nick Utrup (USFWS), Jesse Wiezinger (WI DNR), Rob Simmonds (USFWS), Megan Bradley (USFWS), Lisie Kitchell (WI DNR), Kelly Nail (USFWS), Stephanie Hummel (USFWS), and Brenton Butterfield (WI DNR).
Higgins eye mussel reintroduction crew (clockwise from bottom left: Tam Smith (USFWS), Jake Winkler (WIDNR), Nick Utrup (USFWS), Jesse Wiezinger (WI DNR), Rob Simmonds (USFWS), Megan Bradley (USFWS), Lisie Kitchell (WI DNR), Kelly Nail (USFWS), Stephanie Hummel (USFWS), and Brenton Butterfield (WI DNR). - Photo Credit: Brenton Butterfield (WIDNR)
Snorkelers hand place Higgins eye mussels into the Chippewa River, Wisconsin.
Snorkelers hand place Higgins eye mussels into the Chippewa River, Wisconsin. - Photo Credit: Kelly Nail (USFWS)
Tagged Higgins eye pearlymussels.
Tagged Higgins eye pearlymussels. - Photo Credit: Tamara Smith, USFWS
Kelly Nail (USFWS) with some tagged Higgins eye mussels
Kelly Nail (USFWS) with some tagged Higgins eye mussels - Photo Credit: Tamara Smith (USFWS)
Tam Smith (USFWS) gets ready to release Higgins eye mussels into the Chippewa River.
Tam Smith (USFWS) gets ready to release Higgins eye mussels into the Chippewa River. - Photo Credit: Stephanie Hummel (USFWS)
A cooler full of tagged Higgins eye pearlymussels ready to be released into the Chippewa River.  Following transport from GNFH, the cooler water was quickly drained to allow the biologist to lift the cooler and add fresh river water.
A cooler full of tagged Higgins eye pearlymussels ready to be released into the Chippewa River. Following transport from GNFH, the cooler water was quickly drained to allow the biologist to lift the cooler and add fresh river water. - Photo Credit: Tamara Smith (USFWS)

On August 27, 2018, biologists from the Minnesota-Wisconsin Field Office, Region 3 Regional Office, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources assisted the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in releasing approximately 3,000 Higgins eye pearlymussels (Lampsilis higginsii) into the Chippewa River in Wisconsin.

 The Higgins eye pearlymussel was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1976. Since listing, the known range has expanded and there have been increased monitoring efforts, improvements in sampling and propagation techniques, reintroductions and greater emphasis on research throughout the range. For the last 15 years, the partners have been developing techniques to propagate Higgins eye. Studies focused first on identifying a suitable reproductive host and confirmed that largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), smallmouth bass (M. dolomieu), walleye (Sander vitreus), yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and other fish are suitable hosts. Biologists then began developing, testing and refining techniques to facilitate efficient collection of brooding females, to maximize the likelihood of successful juvenile transformation, and to maintain juveniles in situ (e.g., in cages) as they grew large enough for eventual release. To date, this program has produced over 5 million juvenile mussels with releases of subadults occurring throughout 6 streams in 4 states. The capability to propagate and reintroduce Higgins eye into habitats that it occupied historically has facilitated its path towards recovery.

Since the early 2000s, the Chippewa River in Wisconsin has been considered as a potential reintroduction location for Higgins eye. The Chippewa River contains high quality mussel habitat, contains the fish hosts, and is likely part of Higgins eye’s historical range. Further, there is a diverse mussel assemblage present in the river, including another endangered mussel, sheepnose (Plethobasus cyphyus), suggesting that the water quality is suitable for sensitive species. Additionally, the federally endangered winged mapeleleaf mussel (Quadrula fragosa) was reintroduced to a nearby site on the Chippewa River in 2016 (see A happy accident results in a great start for winged mapleleaf recovery).

2017 marked the first successful reintroduction of Higgins eye into the Chippewa River (see 2017 Higgins eye reintroduction on the Chippewa River). In addition to this year and last year’s releases, we and our partners intend to release sub-adult Higgins eye from the St. Croix River (deemed ‘Northern Strain’) into several more sites on the Chippewa River to form a series of nearby reintroduction sites, that over time will become an interconnected, reproducing population spanning several miles of the river. Our target density is 0.03/m2 and to obtain this target, we estimate that approximately 3,000 individuals will need to be released at each location.

Young Higgins eye are reared cages in the St. Croix River, until they are large enough to be tagged and released. Before releasing, each mussel was marked with a black glue dot to indicate it was raised at the GNFH. A subset them of also received a unique shellfish tag to help track survival and growth. To eliminate the spread of invasive zebra mussels, these animals are held in quarantine at Genoa NFH for at least 30 days before release (see July 27 Field Notes entry). We and our partners plan to monitor these reintroduction sites over time to assess survival, growth, and to look for signs of reproduction.


Contact Info: Tamara Smith, 612-725-3548 (x2219), tamara_smith@fws.gov
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